US & Canada

Rick Perry downplays debate meltdown

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has admitted "he stepped in it" in Wednesday night's television debate when he was unable to remember a third federal department he would cut.

But as media commentators wondered if his campaign could survive such a blunder, the Texas governor insisted he would not quit the White House race.

"This ain't a day for quitting nothing," he said.

Mr Perry was briefly the frontrunner after he entered the race in August.

His implosion came during a debate in the state of Michigan with his seven rivals for the Republican nomination to challenge Barack Obama for the White House in 2012.

Spin-room admission

Mr Perry fluffed his lines, finding himself unable to give details of a key campaign policy - the three federal departments he says he would eliminate if he became president.

Leading contender Mitt Romney intervened and suggested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"EPA, there you go," Mr Perry said, before acknowledging that was not it.

One of the CNBC debate hosts asked: "You can't name the third one?"

Mr Perry said: "The third agency of government I would... I would do away with, the education, uh the... uh commerce... and, let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops."

The answer he was looking for, he told moderators later, was the Department of Energy.

In the "spin room" after the debate, Mr Perry told a crowd of journalists: "I'm glad I had my boots on because I really stepped in it tonight."

Mr Perry did the round of early morning talk shows on Thursday in an effort to stem any fallout from the incident.

"There were so many federal agencies that come to mind, that I want to get rid of, that the energy department would not come out," he said in an interview for ABC's Good Morning America.

His campaign sent an email out to his supporters asking: "What part of the Federal Government would you like to forget about the most?" His website now asks supporters to vote for one.

Perry aides also sought to downplay Wednesday night's cringe-inducing memory lapse.

"We had a stumble of style and not substance," insisted Ray Sullivan, Mr Perry's top communications adviser. "He still named two more agencies than this president [would eliminate]."

The Texas governor had already been trying to put behind him previous shaky debate performances, blamed for his descent into the ranks of second-tier candidates.

Mr Perry has been striving to prove in recent weeks that he is still a credible challenger to Mr Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, by rolling out detailed policy proposals.

Audience jeers moderators

The Texas governor raised more money than Mr Romney in the third quarter and has been campaigning hard in Iowa, which holds the first in a series of state contests to pick the Republican nominee.

But Mr Perry found himself dogged by suggestions that he had been drinking or taking drugs when he recently gave an animated speech in New Hampshire.

It went viral online and inspired a parody by NBC's Saturday Night Live show, prompting Mr Perry to deny that he had been under the influence of any substance.

Mr Romney has already been helped by the allegations of sexual harassment that are distracting the campaign of another rival, Herman Cain.

Moderators were booed by the audience during Wednesday's debate when they asked Mr Cain to defend his character in the light of the claims of improper behaviour.

He was applauded as he restated that the allegations were false and accused the news media of "character assassination".

Mr Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were named as the winners of Wednesday's debate, in a snap poll by the Detroit Free Press newspaper.

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